Jim Thome thanks Charlie Manuel in Hall of Fame speech

Jim Thome thanks Charlie Manuel in Hall of Fame speech

Jim Thome was officially inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday.

The slugger was one of six 2018 class members to be enshrined in Cooperstown, New York, along with Chipper Jones, Vladimir Guerrero, Alan Tramell, Trevor Hoffman and Jack Morris.

After a 22-year MLB career, Thome finished eighth all-time in home runs with 612. The five-time All-Star also drove in 1,699 runs and had a career slash line of .276/.402/.554.

And one of the first people Thome thanked in his speech for playing a part in the illustrious career that landed him in Cooperstown? Charlie Manuel. 

"From the moment I met Charlie Manuel as a wide-eyed kid in the Gulf Coast League, I knew this was someone I could connect with instantly," Thome said. "Charlie took a scrappy young kid who was anxious to hit a million home runs and actually encouraged those crazy dreams. He told me I could hit as many home runs as I wanted to. From Day 1 in that dugout in Kissimmee, he always believed in me."

Thome was a 13th-round selection by the Indians in the 1989 draft and Manuel was one of his managers during his time in Cleveland's minor league system. In 1993 it was actually Manuel who, after watching Robert Redford's character, Roy Hobbs, do something similar in The Natural, came up with the idea for Thome to point his bat at the pitcher in an effort to slow down and ease the tension in his batting stance load

"Chuck, I'll never forget the day you called me in your office in Scranton," Thome said. " You had this idea that I could benefit from what Roy Hobbs was doing. Little did I know that day in Pennsylvania would change everything for me. From that day on, all we did was work, work, and work some more. You know I wouldn't be standing here today without you. Thank you for everything, but most of all thank you for your loyalty."

Manuel and Thome also crossed paths at the major league level, as Manuel was made the Indians' hitting coach in 1994 and then elevated to the managerial position from 2000-02.  Thome, who went into the Hall of Fame as a member of the Indians, hit 337 of his career homers in his 12-plus seasons in Cleveland. 

Following the 2002 season, Thome hit free agency and signed a six-year, $85 million deal with the Phillies. He hit 89 total home runs and made an All-Star team in his first two seasons in Philly before an injury-riddled 2005 campaign when he only appeared in 59 games, which was Manuel's first season as the Phillies' manager. With fellow first baseman Ryan Howard also having won the NL Rookie of the Year in 2005, Thome was dealt in the subsequent offseason to the White Sox.

"Cleveland is where my career was born, but Philadelphia is where I had to grow up fast," Thome said. "I needed every single tool in my toolbox in Philly. The city welcomed me with open arms from the moment those electricians met us wearing those hardhats. The fans couldn't have been better. Larry Bowa was the manager and he was tough as nails. He pushed me and our team to a whole new level. Thanks, Bow and the front office of Philly. First class all the way. David Montgomery, Bill Giles alongside Ed Wade and Ruben Amaro Jr. made my time there so meaningful."

Thome would go on to play seven more seasons for six different teams following the trade, even returning for short second stints with the Indians in 2011 and the Phillies 2012, reuniting with Manuel one last time. That 2012 season would be Thome's last in the majors, as he finished it at age 42. He officially retired in 2014 as an Indian after signing a one-day contract with Cleveland.

After slugging 101 home runs in three-plus seasons in Philly, Thome was inducted into the Phillies' Wall of Fame in August of 2016. 

"I'm so honored to be a part of something so special, something greater than the individual," Thome said as he closed his speech Sunday. "It's been my great privilege to have played the game for as long as I did and I can say this with certainty: The possibilities are just as important as the outcome. In living the dream that is Major League Baseball, the best part is not the result, but taking the journey with the people whose contributions make it all possible. Baseball is beautiful, and I am forever in its service."

You can watch Thome's full speech here.

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Why Chase Utley's Hall of Fame case comes up just short

Why Chase Utley's Hall of Fame case comes up just short

The Phillies' golden era has been over for quite some time but this month sure felt like the final chapter, with Jayson Werth, Shane Victorino and Chase Utley all announcing their retirements.

Utley will play out the rest of this season, but the conversation quickly shifts to his Hall of Fame candidacy. 

I'm assuming a good number of Phillies fans will disagree, but in my opinion, Utley's résumé falls just short. His peak just wasn't long enough.

From 2005-10, Utley was an incredible all-around baseball player. He hit for average, hit for power, took his walks, was the sport's most savvy and efficient base runner, and he had above average range at second base.

That six-year peak can be put up against the peak of any second baseman in baseball history. The postseason successes and Utley's legendary work ethic only add to it.

But you can't be selective about these things. When acknowledging Utley's magnificent peak, you must also account for the mediocre second half of his career.

From 2011-14, Utley's last full season as a Phillie, he hit .269/.347/.433 and missed 176 games. Decent numbers, but not Utley at his peak. From 2015-18, he's hit .235/.310/.377 as a part-time player.

All in all, Utley's OPS has been league average over his last 3,500 plate appearances. You just can't dismiss that.

I brought this up Friday on Twitter and one of the replies was that a five-year run was good enough for Sandy Koufax to make it. But Koufax had maybe the best five-year run of any starting pitcher ever, going 111-34 with a 1.95 ERA and 0.93 WHIP and three Cy Young awards in his final five seasons. 

If Utley had a bonkers run like that with a couple MVP awards, this is a different conversation.

One determinant I like to use with the Hall of Fame is "Can the story of baseball be told without this player?" Because of his peak, the Phillies' 2008 World Series and his record-setting '09 World Series, the story of baseball cannot be told without Utley.

And yet it still feels like he'll fall just short.

Longtime statistician Bill James has a formula called the Hall of Fame Monitor, which weighs different career stats to measure a player's likelihood of making the HOF. A score of 100 is seen as a likely Hall of Famer. Utley is at 94. 

That feels about right. Very, very, very good career, and one that means more to Philadelphians than it does to anybody anywhere else.

Utley just wasn't that same dynamic player over a long enough portion of his career. The serious knee injuries were the major reason why. Without them, we might be talking about a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

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The case for Chase Utley to get elected to Hall of Fame

The case for Chase Utley to get elected to Hall of Fame

The end has come for “The Man.” 

Chase Utley announced Friday he will retire following the 2018 season. When the Dodgers' season ends, Utley’s Hall of Fame clock begins. He’ll go on the ballot in five years and will subsequently have 10 possible chances to receive the 75 percent of the vote necessary for election.

From my perspective, Utley is the only Phillies position player of the 2007-11 golden era that has a chance for enshrinement in Cooperstown. Jimmy Rollins has an interesting anecdotal case but the numbers just don’t suggest Rollins is worthy of a call to the Hall.

Utley, however, not only deserves consideration but should be voted into the Hall of Fame. 

The debate on Utley will ultimately hinge on how the voters interpret his numbers. His total counting numbers do not impress. Recording 3,000 career hits has been the automatic mark for induction. Utley will not even get to 2,000. He’ll likely finish his career in the neighborhood of 260 home runs and 1,035 RBIs. Both those totals are respectable, especially for a second baseman. But neither is eye-popping.

But when you look at Utley’s peak from 2005-11, the advanced metrics certainly play in his favor. The UCLA product finished top six among all MLB players in WAR in every season from 2005-09. During that span, Utley posted a .301/.388/.535 slash line while averaging 101 RBIs and 73 extra-base hits per season. Furthermore, Jay Jaffe’s JAWS metric, which measures a player’s Hall of Fame worthiness, puts Utley as the 10th-best second baseman of all-time between Ryne Sandberg and Frankie Frisch, both of whom are already enshrined in Cooperstown.

In his era, Robinson Cano is the only second baseman to post better numbers than Utley. But Cano’s recent positive PED test casts doubts on his entire career. So it’s not difficult to argue Utley was the best player at his position during his career.

Beyond the numbers, Utley has a very strong anecdotal case. If the Dodgers make the postseason this year, Utley will have made nine postseason appearances in his career. He’s been to three World Series, winning it all in 2008 with the Phillies. 

Speaking of the Fall Classic, his five home runs vs. the Yankees in 2009 tie him with Reggie Jackson and George Springer for the most in a single World Series. In 2008, Utley’s Game 1 first-inning home run set the tone for a team looking to end a quarter-century of Philadelphia sports shortcomings.

Then in Game 5 of that series, with the Phils nursing a one-run lead, Utley authored the most important defensive play in the 135-year history of the franchise with his fake to first, throw to home that cut down Jason Bartlett at the plate. 

Utley does have a lack of individual hardware during his career. His four Silver Slugger awards are it as far as end-of-season accomplishments go. That said, it’s noteworthy that Rollins’ 2007 MVP award was likely headed for Utley’s mantle if not for a John Lannan fastball that broke Utley’s hand in July of that season. That was the 100th game Utley played that season. At that point, he was on pace to hit 28 home runs and drive in 133 runs while hitting .336 for the season. Despite missing 30 games, Utley still finished with the fourth-best WAR in MLB that season (7.6), well ahead of Rollins (6.1).

Beyond those moments, there was the leadership Utley provided. We certainly march into a gray area when discussing that which cannot be quantified. But teammates both in Philadelphia and Los Angeles, almost universally, speak glowingly of Utley’s approach and how it positively impacts the teams for which he’s played.

I’ll never forget producing an interview with a key member of those great Phillies teams. During a break, the subject of leadership came up. Players on those teams publicly disdained speaking about who was the leader for fear of offending anyone. But with the cameras off, this player went into great detail about how Utley led the team, even laughing at the notion that there were any leaders on the team beyond Utley.

So if Utley’s career numbers leave his Hall of Fame case at a stalemate, everything else points in his direction. And it’s only fitting when talking about the best base runner of his generation that the tie go to the runner.

That’s my case for Chase.

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